Friday, May 31, 2013

The Day After Hersheypark, We Went to a Place Known Only as…Chocolate World

Maybe I’ll start this post with what some members of Team Stimey (Okay, fine. Me.) chanted on our way from the car to the building that houses Chocolate World.
“Chocolate World! Chocolate World! We’re going to Chocolate World!”


It’s too bad no one was excited.

Chocolate World! Chocolate World! We’re going to Chocolate World!
I just learned about Chocolate World within the last few months. It immediately went to the top of my “must visit” list. Because…Chocolate. World.

Chocolate World! Chocolate World! We’re going to Chocolate World!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect there. I knew the basics because I’d talked to a friend who had been there before, but all I really knew was that there was chocolate—like, free samples of chocolate.

Where to find that chocolate, however, was not immediately apparent.

We walked into the building and I didn’t even know what to do. All I could see was people. There was no chocolate. There was no obvious place to go. There was just a mass of people and big signs with pictures and dollar amounts next to them.

That’s when I stopped chanting. My eyes widened and I may have turned around and around in tiny circles until Alex assessed the situation and determined that we had to stand in the long line and decide how much money we wanted to give the people at the front desk based on the icons that represented Chocolate World’s various attractions.

This was the most coherent sign in the whole place.
I ended up leaving Alex to decide what we should do and took my kids over to an empty queue that claimed to be a free attraction. Kids could pretend to be assembly line workers, then you had the option of buying a box of Hershey’s Kisses that theoretically came off the assembly line.

Foreshadowing: Quinn is not wearing his hat.
Only in America will you find small children standing in line to pretend to work on a factory assembly line.

I was all, “We are just doing the assembly line. I am NOT buying you any Hershey’s Kisses.”

Guess how many boxes of Hershey’s Kisses I bought? (That’s rhetorical. We all know that I bought three.)

After our short but expensive excursion to the pretend factory floor, I forced all my children to sit down against a wall as we waited for Alex. I don’t remember what I did to annoy Alex when he showed back up. Maybe I rolled my eyes at one of the attractions he’d chosen for us or I complained about having to corral the munchkins by myself.

He promptly put me in my place with a disbelieving look and the response of, “Yeah, I just stood in the longest line for the worst ride ever.”

He was right. I immediately readjusted my attitude.
Chocolate World has one truly free attraction, which is a little ride that takes you through how Hershey’s chocolate is made. Said ride ends with free chocolate. Said ride, however, starts with a long line in a packed hallway. Eventually we made it to the ride and were able to break loose from the masses of humanity.

Don’t they all look happy and relaxed?

Fortunately, the ride calmed everyone down and we followed it up with the 4D movie they have, which calmed everyone down even more. There is nothing like an hour in a couple of dark rooms to chill out my family. Phew.

I’m not saying the movie is going to win any Oscars, but it made my kids laugh and that is all I ask.
We exited the theater through the gift shop (of course), where we found the world’s biggest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Peanut butter cups are Quinn’s favorites. I don’t think even he could manage to eat two half-pound versions of them though.

Sadly, we will never know if he could consume a pound of peanut butter cups, as even we decided not to buy them.
From there, we took another trip through the free ride and then headed to the chocolate tasting experience. It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that we tasted chocolates there. It also probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that all five of us had fun tasting chocolate. Chocolate World was starting to look like a great choice for my family.

We just had one more activity before we headed back to the hotel. We were going to do the make-your-own-chocolate-bar activity where you decide what you want in a chocolate bar, watch the Hershey’s machines actually make it, decorate the wrapper yourself, then go home with your very own candy bar.

This particular activity is the main reason we went to Chocolate World. Sam has a teacher who really loves chocolate and he wanted to make a chocolate bar for her. (She also gave us discount coupons for Hersheypark that saved us a ton of money, so it seemed like an excellent trade to buy her a candy bar.) Everybody was excited to make their candy bar. All three of my kids had been talking about it all weekend.

There was one snag. (There is always a snag.) I knew this was coming and I had talked to Quinn about it ahead of time. He’d seemed okay with it in theory, but when it came down to go-time, he freaked out completely.

That snag? Because there was actual food being produced in front of us, we all had to wear aprons and hairnets.

Happily Sam and Jack were more than happy to wear their hairnets. I was more than happy to take their photograph in said hairnets.
The screaming. Oh, God, the screaming. I still hear it in my dreams.

Quinn could not handle the hairnet. He tried. He tried so hard. He completely lost it. It was rough. I managed to help him calm down enough to watch his chocolate bar get made (he didn’t have to wear the hairnet when making his recipe or designing his package) and we skipped out on the last part of the production process, choosing instead to play Minecraft on the iPad and let Alex, Sam, and Jack pick up our chocolate bars.

Then we were done. We’d pushed everyone far enough. We had a bag full of chocolate. We had just enough time to squeeze in a quick swim at the hotel before our late checkout. It was time to leave the land of chocolate.

We wandered back to the car, Jack telling random people on the way, “You can make your own chocolate bar in there!”

So. Chocolate World. I would call it a success. My kids really enjoyed being there. You know, with the exception of Quinn and the hair nets. We won’t be visiting any other food production facilities in the next several years, that is for sure.

This brings us to the conclusion of Team Stimey’s Memorial Day visit to the Land of Chocolate and Screaming. Although if I’m going to be honest, most of our outings involve chocolate and screaming, so perhaps I should say that this is the end of our visit to the Land of Chocolate and Screaming in Pennsylvania.

I guess if there were one thing I wanted to impart about our weekend, which was both fantastic and extremely challenging, is that I love going on adventures with my family. It is never smooth sailing, but it is always rewarding.

My family exasperates me like nothing else, but those moments when they make me laugh (and there are a lot of them), those moments when they laugh (and there are a lot of them), those moments when they overcome things that are difficult for them, those moments when we experience something new together, those moments when we get to be ourselves with each other—those moments are what make my life worthwhile.

So, yes, our trip to the Land of Chocolate and Screaming in Pennsylvania (a.k.a. Hersheypark and Chocolate World), were not perfect. But I wouldn’t trade those two day for anything in the world.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It Turns Out the Geo Bowl Was Good Inclusion All Along

Today was the day. Today was Geo Bowl day. I crossed my fingers and sent Jack to school with assurances that I was proud of him for working so hard to prepare for his competition and the results of the contest didn’t matter at all.

Jack had studied really hard for the Geo Bowl. I’d emailed the other team parents. I’d made sure Jack’s teacher and para had support plans in place. I’d panicked to all of you ad nauseum. We were as ready as we were gonna be.

I needn’t have worried.

My friend—whose daughter is in Jack’s autism class—and I sat in the front row at the Geo Bowl together today and watched our kids rock the free world.

It turns out that the way it was set up, no one student was put on the spot at any point. The teams didn’t have to compete against each other to answer questions first. The kids didn’t have to sit quietly in a chair behind a table. Honestly, I wouldn’t have had any suggestions about how to better set it up if I’d been asked. It was great.

I considered going into detail about how it was set up, but I don’t think you really care. What you care about is that Jack’s team smiled with him, included him, and made him part of the high-fives that went around when they answered questions right. (His friend’s team did the same with her.)

Every kid in that room was awesome. They all knew so much about geography and had obviously worked really hard.The organizers, who as far as I could tell were all parents, were fantastic and had done an amazing job putting the Geo Bowl together. The whole thing gave me warm fuzzies.

It also helped that the teams had come up with some excellent team names: Purple Eagles, Red Revolution, Yellow Rice Krispies, Blue Sumo Wrestlers (Jack’s team), and the Flying Monkeys—who were green.

The end result was really close. None of the teams missed many questions. But Jack’s team came out on top—by one point.

After the Sumo Wrestlers were announced as the winner, kids in the audience gave Jack spontaneous high fives. I know, right? I know.
So Jack’s team won, but how did he do?

He did great.

He took a break at one point, leaving the auditorium with his fantastic paraeducator. I was actually really happy to see that, because I had told Jack that if he needed a break, he could take one. I love watching him advocate for himself.

His team wasn’t asked any questions about the U.S. Territories (Jack’s specialty), but there was one question that no one on the team knew the answer to—except for Jack. He gave them the answer and earned them the point.

Again, I know.

(Delaware. The answer was Delaware. I can’t remember the question.)

One of the parents who had been on the stage with the kids made a point to tell me right after the Geo Bowl that Jack had done that. Another parent emailed me later that afternoon to tell me the same thing.


I am beaming just remembering.

I could not possibly be prouder of Jack. (He’s proud of himself too.) I could not be more in love with his teammates. My friend and I giddily walked out of the school after the Geo Bowl, talking about how amazing it was to watch our kids brainstorm and celebrate with their teammates. Our kids are phenomenally awesome, we decided.

He refused to smile for me. I didn’t care.
Once again, Jack has shown me just how much he is capable of. It should come as no surprise to any of us that he is capable of a lot.

Spectacularly Good or Spectacularly Bad? Welcome to Hersheypark.

Remember back the night before my family headed into Hersheypark and I was all:
“This will be my kids’ first time at an amusement park. I imagine that is will go spectacularly.
 "Spectacularly good or spectacularly bad, that remains to be seen.”
Well. Done and done.

Also, you should note that I managed to spell “it” wrong in the second sentence of that quote that I copy and pasted from its original post. That seems about right.

So. Here’s the backstory: I didn’t want to throw any birthday parties this year, so I talked Jack and Quinn into foregoing theirs and going to Hersheypark and Chocolate World instead.

In my defense, it sounded like a great plan.

Our itinerary was to drive up Friday night, go to Hersheypark on Saturday, go to Chocolate World on Sunday, and then drive home that evening, full of joy and happy memories. Friday went just as planned, complete with a heated pool to swim in at the hotel.

Jack choked on bacon at breakfast on Saturday, but that isn’t even the worst thing that happened that morning.

Here’s how it all went to hell, like, two minutes after our arrival at Hersheypark:

We drove into the parking lot, got out of the car, walked about 20 feet, and then Quinn turfed it. It was like slow fucking motion. I saw him go down on his knee, then his shoulder, then it looked like he was going to stop there, but he didn’t and then he tipped down onto his nose and his forehead.

I jumped to the ground next to him and hugged him as he started screaming, “We have to go home! We have to go home! We have to go home!” It took a good several minutes before he’d even let me look at his face. When he finally did, this is what I saw:

I don’t know that I have to tell you that I took this photo much, MUCH later. Even then, several hours after the fall, it’s somewhat of a miracle that he was willing to smile for me.

It was brutal. I had to pick Quinn up and carry him the rest of the looooooong way into the park. It was either that or turn around and take the 30-second walk back to the car and call it a day.

Side note: Quinn is ridiculously heavy. He’s loud too.

I don’t know if you’ve been to Hersheypark, but I swear to God that the entrance was, like, three miles away from the parking lot. We did stop at one point to measure ourselves according to Hershey’s height standards.

Sam was a Jolly Rancher. Jack was a Twizzler. Quinn was…reluctant to be measured. (a.k.a. a Hershey bar)
We had decided to get disability passes for Jack for his autism and Quinn for his SPD and body regulation issues. Standing in long lines is especially tough on Quinn and Jack gets dysregulated in line situations. I won’t go into all the reasons I felt my kids needed the disability pass, but I knew that we did need them—for Quinn more than anyone else.

Our visit to the Hospitality Office to get those passes was a source of stress for me. I was worried that they would turn us down and then my kids wouldn’t be able to handle the park. I was worried that they wouldn’t be nice. I was worried that they were going to try to make Jack and Quinn wear wristbands around the park and I knew that would be worse than not having a pass at all.

Here’s something though: If you are standing in the ADA compliance line and one parent is holding a sobbing 8-year-old while the other parent is clutching the hand of a 10-year-old so he doesn’t take off in excitement and then that parent bursts into stress tears because she has been worrying for weeks about how her kids would be able to handle an amusement park and it turns out that it doesn’t look like any of them are going to be able to handle it all that damn well because they are 15 feet into the park and it’s already Hersheygeddon, well, the staff there will be really nice to you.

The woman there took one look at me and my entourage, accepted my paperwork, said, “Do you think they’ll need cards instead of wristbands?” and then told me we could stand in a quieter spot while she got all of our paperwork ready.

Thank you, Hersheypark.

(In truth, we didn’t actually use the passes all that much. Quinn didn’t go on many rides and we stood in line for most of them. Despite it being Memorial Day weekend, it was really cold, so the lines weren’t too long. I do have to say though, that when we did need those passes, we were so grateful for them. I do know that our day was much easier because of them.)

We headed out from the Hospitality office and Quinn and I took a little break while Sam, Jack, and Alex ran off to play on a ride. I finally convinced Quinn to try the carousel. I got my first inkling that things might turn out okay when I saw him trying to suppress the tiniest of smiles on the ride.

This was not that smile.

Jack and Sam, on the other hand, couldn’t have been happier.

The dude in the Hershey bar suit was probably less happy when my kids pretended to eat his arms. I bet that happens to him a lot.
So, they liked the characters, but what about the rides? I bet Sam and Jack hated the rides, didn’t they?

They totally did.
We went on a series of rides after that. Two of us on this one, three on that, and things started to look up. After riding the bumper cars, even Quinn busted out a smile. We worked our way through some of the kiddie rides on the way to the Minetown section of the park, which I think Jack imagined was just like Minecraft. (It wasn’t.)

By the time we got over to the little speedway where kids can pretend to drive cars (Jack, by the way, is the slowest damn driver ever. I know. I was in his car and witnessed the backup behind us), all three kids were having a good time.

When you ask Quinn if he had a good time at Hersheypark, he will tell you no and then he will tell you about how he fell on his face in the parking lot. He will claim to have hated everything and to have not had fun at all. But, trust me, he didn’t hate everything. I give you this photograph as proof:

Not only is he happy, but you can barely even see his facial scarring.
You might also notice that he is wearing two jackets in that photo. That is because he was cold in just his jacket, so he stole my sweatshirt leaving me in short sleeves. By the time I got desperate enough to pay $50 for a sweatshirt that read “KISSES” across the front, there were no sweatshirt shops anywhere to be seen. It sucked.

If I had to describe motherhood in a sentence, it might be this: “No matter how cold it is, you will always give your coat to your child.” If I had to describe motherhood by Stimey, I would add, “and complain vociferously the whole time.”

After Jack’s Sunday driver training, we were walking to the log ride and Jack saw a roller coaster where people’s legs were dangling from the seats and he insisted he wanted to go on it. I should mention here that Jack had never been on a roller coaster at this point. Because I am me, I didn’t even bother to check the track layout before I agreed and got into line with him. I just figured, well, Jack is fearless, so what’s the worst that could happen?

You guys, this roller coaster had loops. It had corkscrews. It had a corkscrewing loop. Oh, it was quite the roller coaster. I think it surprised Jack a lot. I’ll say this for the kid though; he didn’t want to go back on that particular roller coaster, but he was game to go on any other ride or coaster for the rest of the day. Jack and his bravery astound me every single day. He is one of a kind, that kid.

We collected Alex, Sam, and Quinn from the nearby arcade and Sam, Jack, and I went on the log ride while Alex and Quinn headed back to the skee-ball lanes—Quinn because he wasn’t interested in scary rides and Alex because he wasn’t interested in watery rides. (Did I mention that it was really cold?)

The advantage of the cold day was that there was no line for the log ride, allowing the three of us to go on it twice in record time. Sam loved it. This pleased me because where Jack is fearless, Sam can be fearful. I was hoping to get him on a roller coaster at the park, so I was happy that Sam liked the thrill of going down the hill.

I was also happy that I was able to position my children to block me from getting too wet.
It’s actually too bad that Quinn started the day off in such a rough way. I think that he would have been way more willing to try some of the rides if his fall hadn’t convinced him that Hershey was out to kill him. His hair kept getting stuck to his wounds and hurting him, so it wasn’t like he could forget about it either.

Now, I know this may surprise you, but I am a little bit rigid in the ways that I do things and in my mind, when you go to an amusement park, you ride rides and that is what is fun and you don’t do the arcade games because they are a waste of money because they are rigged so no one wins.

I needed Alex to remind me that those arcade games aren’t just fun if you win. I needed to learn that there are ways other than mine to have fun at an amusement park. He and Quinn did a lot of arcade and boardwalk-style games while the rest of us went on rides. I am so grateful that Alex was flexible enough to see what Quinn needed and that the two of them had such a fun day together.

Quinn won these flowers and Alex won the ability to somehow make Quinn carry the family backpack. That achievement will probably never be repeated.
We headed out of the park shortly after I put Sam on the roller coaster I wanted him to try. I can tell you that he did not care for it and he is very angry at me for putting him on it when there was a tamer one somewhere in the park that no matter how hard we looked, we could not find. I thought it was a blast. He thought I was purposely trying to kill him.

On our way out, we passed a team of candy bars just hanging out by themselves. We caught sight of them from a distance and Jack shrieked and started running to them. The candy bars heard him and they all started waving. Jack leapt over a bench to dive into a hug with the Kit Kat. It was completely enchanting at the same time that it was totally absurd.

Then the candy bars’ handlers had to physically pull him off of said Kit Kat.
From there, all that was left was finding our car. (Me: “Do you remember where we parked? Other than near the bloodstain?”)

Remember when I said that our day at Hersheypark would be either spectacularly good or spectacularly bad? Without question, we had both. All of us had some tough moments, but we got through it and I think we all learned something about ourselves and each other that day. Next time we go to an amusement park (you know, in ten or twelve years, once the memories fade), I’ll use those lessons to make our trip even better.

So, that was our day. I’ll save our day at Chocolate World for tomorrow because I think if I tried to add any more to this post, my blog would implode. For White Knuckle Parenting this week, I did write specifically about the lessons I learned at the amusement park. Definitely check it out.

The 5th Avenue bar strikes me a little bit as a Poochie the Rockin’ Dog character: all attitude, no substance.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

We Survived Hersheypark (Almost) Intact!

Remember how Team Stimey was headed to Hersheypark over the weekend? Well, we went and we survived and we only had one choking incident and one injury that resulted in facial scarring.

For Team Stimey, that’s almost like a perfect vacation.

I took a gajillion photos and have a ton of stories to tell you, but I am tiiiiiiired tonight, so I’ll put that off until tomorrow.

Tonight I’ll give you this photo of Mouse, who made me happy by actually using the exercise wheel in his cage, but who did it all kinds of wrong.

Even my gerbils march to the beat of their own drummers.
He did this for a really long time. It was hilarious.

Until tomorrow!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Three Weeks to Go

Is the end of the school year killing anyone else? I feel like I have two or three events to fit in every single day for the last three weeks of school. With three kids in three schools, that means that I don’t even get to kill three birds with one stone. I have three spring concerts. Three end of the year parties. Sixty-five field trips.

Seriously. These kids go on a LOT of field trips.

That doesn’t even include Geo Bowls, regular volunteer gigs, and 504 meetings.

This week alone, there was that great concert at Jack’s school, a field trip for Jack and a field trip for Quinn, and a performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest by Sam’s fifth grade class.

I have to tell you, I think the play wins for best event of the week. It was phenomenal. Sam’s teacher created this fantastic 40-minute adaptation of The Tempest that the entire class took part in. It was absolutely amazing.

I took both Jack and Quinn out of school so they could go with me to watch, partly because I wouldn’t have gotten home in time to pick them up from school after the play and partly because they really wanted to go.

I wasn’t sure about their attention span and how well they would follow, you know, Shakespeare, but they both sat quietly on the floor and watched, rapt. Watching them in the audience was nearly as good for me as watching Sam in the play.

I don’t have great photos of Sam in the play, but trust me, he was a star.
I was beyond impressed by this fifth grade class. Every one of them did so well. Afterward, I could barely restrain Jack until the audience (made up of the other classes in Sam’s school) left because he was all, “I want to go hug Sam!”

(I did too.)

Methinks Jack was a little starstruck.
It was all very cool. Also, I feel I should let you know that I didn’t even read Shakespeare until I was in 9th grade. Kids these days.

After yesterday’s theater experience, today I chaperoned the second grade field trip to the Natural History Museum. Parts of it were a lot of fun. Quinn made it about 3/4 of the way through before he melted down.

I think I took this photo on the cusp between “Field trips are fun! I am having a great time!” and “I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW.”
Quinn pretty seriously lost his shit right in the middle of the dinosaur exhibit. Poor guy.

Before we embark on next week’s many elementary school adventures, we’re talking a little Memorial Day weekend vacation to Hershey Park. This will be my kids’ first time at an amusement park. I imagine that is will go spectacularly.

Spectacularly good or spectacularly bad, that remains to be seen.

Honestly, considering my family, we’ll probably have a little bit of both. And that’s perfectly all right by me.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Day of 1000 Cakes

Guess who is 8 years old today. No really. Guess.

Did you guess this shifty looking dude?
‘Cause you’d be right.

Quinn was a little bummed out that his birthday fell on a school day, so we worked really hard to make sure he felt it was special. We let him open a couple of gifts first thing in the morning (including that awesome Minecraft shirt in the photo above) and we gave him cake almost immediately upon waking.

I should explain the cake. We have these awesome neighbors. Every year for Christmas they bring us a coffee cake. Quinn LIVES for this coffee cake. Every single time my neighbor walks into our house, Quinn runs up and asks if she has coffee cake with her.

She almost never does.

But! A couple of days ago, she brought over a coffee cake so Quinn would wake up to it this morning. I hid it in the freezer and pulled it out last night and put it on the counter. You should have seen his face. He was DELIGHTED.

Cake count: 1

Then it was off to school where he was celebrated on the bus with the happy birthday song and his classroom, where he shared mini-cupcakes and was celebrated again.

Cake count: 2

I had a brand new bag of flavor blasted goldfish crackers (his favorite) for him when he got off the bus, but he skipped those and went straight for leftover cupcakes.

Cake count: 3-5

I collected all my kids and we did homework and then I let Quinn open one more gift. (I made him wait until Alex got home from work to open most of them. I am terribly cruel.) This one gift, however, held him over for a while because it was the greatest gift in the history of gifts.

That’s right. I bought a large device that only does one thing—a thing that the ice maker in the refrigerator door pretty much does already—and is basically a delivery device for sugary syrup. This is probably the biggest waste of money in the world. But you know what?

It was worth every penny.
Happily, Alex arrived home shortly after I sugared them up and Quinn was able to (finally) open his gifts.

We now own all of the Minecraft things. All of them. No really.
After that, we ate dinner and then…

Wait. What did we do after dinner? Oh, right.


Even better, ice cream cake covered in twelve tiny plastic cats.
Cake count: 6

Don’t be alarmed, Sam. They’re just…sizing you up…you know…for later.
Happy birthday to my funny, quirky, smart, adorable, hilarious Q-ball. You’re the awesomest 8-year-old I know. (And that’s saying something, because I know some pretty cool 8-year-olds.)

One of these cats was “scary” and didn’t make the final cut.
 And with that, I bid adieu to birthday season until October. Thank God.

The Inclusion Problem

I believe in inclusion. I think that when it is done right, putting kids with special needs in general education classrooms is so good for everyone. Obviously, full inclusion didn’t work for Jack. That doesn’t mean that inclusion can’t work for Jack. It just means that inclusion done right is really difficult and if it’s not done right, it really isn’t right.

Jack is in a specialized program for kids with a certain kind of autism, but he spends a big chunk of his day with typical kids in general education classrooms. He always has support and he’s been doing pretty well. For the most part, we are really happy that he is where he is and with the people he is with. It’s not a perfect situation, but what is?

Jack had a chorus concert at his school today. He had a tough time at his afternoon concert, but an even harder time at the evening concert, which he wanted to participate in, but couldn’t handle without poking at and bothering the other kids. We ended up leaving after one song. It wasn’t great.

The truth of the whole thing is that this evening, Jack, an autistic child, was put in a stressful, stimulating, pressure-filled situation without supports. I am partly to blame for that. The school carries some blame too. The truth is that I failed to make sure he was taken care of well enough.

I learned a lesson tonight though. I learned that even though the school carries the responsibility to make sure that Jack is supported at school events, I can’t count on that and I have to be the one to make sure he is okay. This is a lesson that I have learned many times.

It’s too late to help Jack with chorus this year; there are no more concerts. That one is on me. That said, Jack is going to be in a similar situation soon. He is participating in his school’s Geo Bowl, which is a geography quiz show-style competition. He is the only autistic kid on his team (as far as I know; I don’t actually have neuropsych reports on the other kids).

I am worried about the Geo Bowl. I am worried about the stimulation and the sensory overload and the need to communicate quickly. I celebrate the inclusion that put him on the team, but I worry about how it will be carried out. I don’t know how to help make sure that the Geo Bowl is inclusion done right.

Jack has wonderful support at his school during the day. But I have to make sure that he is supported in the right way. I can’t fail him again. I wrote about the Geo Bowl for White Knuckle Parenting this week. If you have thoughts about anything that might help him, I would love to hear them. Or if you have calming words, I always like those too.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In Dreams


I would like to do a little bragging about Sam for a minute. He has been playing flute for a couple of years now and today at his school’s spring concert, he had his first solo. He has been practicing really hard. He was having a little trouble for a while, but after we figured out that his flute needed to be adjusted—not him—it all came together.

See Sam perform In Dreams from Lord of the Rings at his concert. (Also see my finger in front of the lens.)

I’m so proud.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Jean and Jack Day

It’s not too late to talk about Mother’s Day, is it? Because I’d really like to talk about Mother’s Day. See, Sunday wasn’t just Mother’s Day in Stimeyland, but also Jack’s birthday. We were only a silver anniversary away from the perfect storm of celebration.

Wait a minute! Maybe we can achieve this perfect storm of celebration if I show you this slightly blurry photo of Gerbil Mother’s Day:

Although it probably doesn’t count if I took the photo a month ago, does it?
Mother’s Day was pretty much overshadowed by Jack’s birthday, which was totally fine with me, especially because I got the best handmade cards and gifts I could have possibly gotten. Sam made me a paper Minecraft cake and sang a song to go along with it, complete with an illustrated companion book.

Jack made me a bead necklace and a paper flower, along with a note that I had to hide from my other kids because it mentioned the secret iPad time he gets in the morning if he has good behavior at school the day before.

Quinn typed up a little note that said, “I love you and you are good. So I think you should get to sleep in 5 more minutes than you usually do. Then get dressed, come downstairs and fix us breakfast.” Then, he poked at me, said, “I regret putting my thumb in your armpit,” and ran to the bathroom to frantically wash his hands. Because I have cooties, evidently.

Also, Alex got me the best Mother’s Day card that he could possibly have given to a non-hugger autistic person like me.

I laughed and laughed. Alex gets me.
We then moved on to Jack’s big day. He opened presents and then all the males in my house played Minecraft together until I threatened to walk out of the house and go on Jack’s Big Birthday Outing all by myself because we were going to a petting farm and I wanted to pet some farm animals, thank you very much.

Also, Minecraft is stupid.

I finally bent my entire family to my will and we headed out to the farm. Where did we go, you ask? Why don’t we let Sam tell us?

He asked me to take this photo. It was the best Mother’s Day gift I could have asked for.
Wait. Where did you say you were again?

This would only be better if spoilsport Quinn had shown his face. God, I love my family.
There were all kinds of animals to pet and feed at this farm. Unfortunately, Jack was unexcited about all of them.

Wait. I mean he was SUPER excited about all of them.
We started with the fowl. My kids think chickens are really funny. Except Sam. Sam was a little bit afraid of the chickens. That’s probably a smart move seeing as how chickens are exceptionally pointy. In reality, however, chickens are probably more scared of us than we are of them.

This chicken in particular.
He was trapped in a Team Stimey-chicken sandwich—otherwise known as a chicken sandwich.
We saw every animal at the farm. We were allowed to pet all of them except for the zebras. I assume this is because every time I have seen zebras in captivity, there is a sign that warns people that fingers look like carrots* and you shouldn’t stick said fingers in zebra pens because zebras are assholes and will eat your hand.

Naturally, I asked Alex to put his finger in the zebra pen.

He’s really half assing feeding his finger to the zebra though. You can tell from the photo.
We also saw the pig race.

I felt that the race was a little demeaning, but the pigs didn’t seem to mind.
One of those pigs was galloping. The other one sort of ambled at a fast trot. Once they raced, they ate out of their little piggy bowl and the first one snorted angrily and shoved the second one every time the second one tried to eat some food. I was all, “Hey! That first one is like me!”

There were a lot of baby animals at the petting farm. There were baby birds, pigs, llamas, bison, goats, a cow, and sheep.

This baby sheep made a whiny, complainy bleat that sound EXACTLY like Quinn.
Happily, this farm made Quinn, who is often quite grumpy, happier than I have seen him in a while. It was great to see his delighted, happy face. Baby animals are kind of his thing.

The sheer awesomeness of feeding sheep knocked him on his ass.
My favorite animal there was the kangaroo. Have you ever petted a kangaroo? OMG, they are so soft. And they have little hands that they use to scratch themselves in all kinds of fun places while you watch. Plus, if you get really close to them, they will try to eat your hair. I want a kangaroo.

Specifically, this kangaroo. I will name him Bartholomew.
I also have a thing for emus, even though they are kinda dicks. Have you ever petted an emu? Of course not, because they will peck you to death before you get close enough.

Baby chickens were nicer than the emus, although I’m sure if they could have gotten away with pecking my eyes out, they would have.

I would name this lil’ guy “Nugget.”
The unruliest animals were the ones in this cage though:

I would like to state for the record, that it was not ME who locked the children in there.
 Revenge for the illegal jailing was pursued.

Sam will also peck you to death.
I have to say, Alex was skeptical about our trip to the petting farm. It was, however, one of our best outings in a long time. It was outside, so we could be loud and run; there was sufficient interaction to keep everyone’s interest; and we were able to see the entire farm and touch every single animal on it in two hours, meaning no one got overwhelmed.

See? Look? Most of them look not not unhappy!

Add some focus and take away one stranglehold and this photo is super close to being almost frame-able.
And that was Jean and Jack Day in Stimeyland. Pretty good, huh? The only thing I neglected to show you is Jack’s cake. I always get my cakes from the grocery store, but this time I was nervous because my instructions to the bakery, which they wrote verbatim on the order form, were “Make it look grassy. Kind of like it’s a field.”

They actually did a great job. Although it barely mattered considering that one of Jack’s gifts was a set of some awesome Minecraft figures and some plant foam cut into cubes. Jack’s face—hell, my whole family’s faces—were priceless when they saw this cake.

I came to dig.
I hope that all of you had Mother’s Day/Jack’s Birthdays that were as good as ours was. Even though I didn’t get the traditional Mother’s Day gift of getting to avoid my family all day, it was one of the better days that I’ve had in a long, long time.

* Fingers also evidently look like rodent pellets. I say this based on the fact that I poked my finger in front of Jetpack the other day and she latched on, leaving me to yank my hand up, GERBIL STILL DANGLING FROM MY FINGER BY HER TEETH, until she finally fell off. It was quite traumatic, I tell you. The trauma was made even worse because no one was as concerned by the blood oozing out of the tiny puncture wound on the tip of my finger as I was. Fair warning: Jetpack has developed a taste for human blood. Remain vigilant.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Jack’s Smile-a-thon

The Montgomery Cheetahs held their Cheetah-thon today. It was not just a lot of fun, but a great success in raising money to keep this amazing organization moving along.

Jack skated for two hours straight at the rink today. Two hours. With a smile on his face the entire time. (Except for about five minutes after he fell and hurt his knee. Then he had a grimace and tears on his face. But the smile came back.)

This smile.
Seriously. Jack was so happy and relaxed on the ice. He has become very at home there and with these people. In fact, he kind of barnacled himself onto the head coach for much of that two hours. (Sorry, coach.)

Does that do to your heart what it does to mine?
We are so lucky to have found this community. We love you, Cheetah Nation.
We also love our Stimeyland friends. I am exhausted and going to bed. But I wanted to post these photos so you know what you are a part of.

Thank you to everyone who donated, including friends and recent donors Joey and Andy. Thank you to everyone who donated in honor of a Cheetah who wasn’t Jack. (I know. There are others.) Thank you to those donors whom I suspect I know, but who didn’t mark down that they were donating in honor of Jack so I don’t feel right claiming you even if you actually do belong to me. (Yes. You are mine.)

The entire Cheetah Nation and I are so grateful to everyone on this list for your donations. We are also extremely grateful to the people who organized and ran the Cheetah-thon. It is a tremendous amount of work and we can’t possibly thank you enough.